Metro Council bristles at special investigator's role in 2017 LMPD Explorer scandal meeting
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Former U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey participated in a March 2017 meeting with Metro Government officials and attorneys while the city was preparing a defense for a lawsuit claiming alleged sexual misconduct in the police department's youth Explorer program.
Metro Council Public Safety Committee members on Wednesday bristled at Harvey's involvement in the meeting, as it took place shortly before he was hired by Mayor Greg Fischer to conduct an independent investigation into LMPD’s handling of the initial allegations of sexual misconduct in 2013.
Harvey, however, defended his role at the meeting, saying he was simply gathering information for his investigation, including a review of the steps the initial LMPD investigator took.
He added "nobody on the metro council or in the mayor's office ever suggested we should reach a particular result. ... It was done honestly."
Councilwoman Jessica Green said it seemed Harvey "was breaking bread" with those he was supposed to be investigating and "crafting a defense."
“It seems like everybody there is on the same side," she said. "I have some legitimate concerns whether there was a directive or agenda from the very beginning."
Councilman Kevin Kramer indicated it was a possible conflict of interest as the city’s goal in that meeting was to reduce liability, and it could appear that Harvey's final report was aiding the city with a defense.
But councilman Bill Hollander said a review of Harvey's findings, released last month, shows he pulled no punches for city officials.
Harvey's investigation revealed a series of "mistakes" by LMPD, including a failure to look into possible criminal conduct and determine if the abuse was widespread in 2013.
The report, which was made public last month, outlined six different ways that the internal investigation into former officer Kenneth Betts was mishandled.
But the report ultimately concluded there was no cover-up by police or city officials.
"Mistakes and errors in judgment are qualitatively distinct from a criminal cover-up," according to the report.
Harvey reiterated Wednesday that he doesn't believe there was a cover-up, but there "were errors made."
"I can't find the evidence that leads me to believe there was a criminal cover-up," Harvey said.
Council President David James disagreed, telling Harvey his review of the report indicates there was a cover-up.
"It seems awfully coincidental that a lot of things happen, and we have a lot more children that were injured," James said.
But Harvey said there is a difference between mistakes being made and clear evidence of a conspiracy to hide the sexual abuse of children.
Harvey also told the Metro Council Public Safety Committee Wednesday that many people refused to cooperate with his investigation, including two officers who have been indicted, current officers and councilman David Yates and alleged victims he initially in lawsuits.
No officers "came forward and said we want to speak with you," Harvey said.
This lack of access could "change our conclusions," Harvey acknowledged.
Harvey started with the 2013 investigation of Betts, who was initially accused of sending inappropriate texts to a 16-year-old female Explorer and asking her to “make-out" in 2013. During the course of that investigation, detectives learned that a second Explorer, a male teen, was offered money by Betts in exchange for sex several years prior.
In addition, LMPD investigators should have consulted with prosecutors to see if criminal charges should be filed.
And investigators should have seized Betts' phone for a forensic examination, according to the 90 page report by Harvey, who was paid about $140,000 for the report, which took about a year to complete.
Betts is accused of sexually abusing or harassing other Explorers, according to the report. During the meeting Wednesday, Harvey estimated Betts was accused of misconduct by about a dozen Explorers.
In addition, detectives interviewed the girl and her parents but never recorded that interview. According to the report, nude photographs that police discovered of the girl on her cell phone were destroyed by police and not made a part of the investigative file.
The report also shows that former Louisville Metro Police Deputy Chief Ozzie Gibson asked Chief Steve Conrad in 2013 whether Betts should be criminally charged and fired, according to documents released on Wednesday.
Instead, Conrad allowed Betts to resign six months after the investigation had concluded. Betts was not fired immediately, according to the investigation, because he was ill and needed health insurance to complete his medical treatment.
Gibson, according to an investigation of the LMPD Explorer sex scandal, told Conrad that Betts should have been fired so that "the record should be clear as to the nature of Betts' misconduct and the decision to fire him as a consequence."
On Wednesday, Harvey said there was a meeting in the chief's office about terminating Betts or putting him on desk duty until his treatment was concluded. He said he did not know what kind of illness Betts had or if it was ever verified.
However, while "mistakes in judgment, some significant" were made, the report concludes "there was no effort in the LMPD senior command staff to cover up allegations of misconduct in the Explorer program."
Still, the report concluded that by allowing Betts to resign, it allowed the investigation to remain sealed and him to continue in the profession.
Two former officers, including Betts, have been criminally charged and a current officer is under criminal investigation. At least six lawsuits are pending in U.S. District Court claiming Explorers were sexually harassed or assaulted and that officials covered it up.
The report concluded Flaherty did not try to dissuade the teen's parents from cooperating, Flaherty did exercise "questionable judgment" in having any contact with them. Given his relationship with the Explorer program and Betts, Flaherty should not have been involved in the investigation, according to the report. He then repeated the mistake in the Wood investigation in 2016.
Harvey's report also concluded that police should have interviewed the teen girl separate from her parents, recorded the interview and conducted a criminal investigation. And the nude photos should have not been destroyed and instead stored appropriately, the report said.
During the course of that investigation, a male Explorer told police investigators that Betts offered him $400 for oral sex in 2009. The teen also said Betts offered to take care of a speeding ticket in exchange for sexual favors.
And the male told police Betts offered let him make traffic stops in the officer's cruiser and give him a bullet proof vest. In addition, the male Explorer, who wanted to become a police officer, said Betts threatened to "give him bad references" if he did not have sex with him.
The former Explorer said he did not have sex with Betts.
Betts said he believed the male was older, 20 or 21, when the two had some "physical contact," according to the report.
The Harvey report concluded police should have gone to prosecutors to see if criminal charges were warranted. Conrad instead closed the Betts case “by exception” when the officer resigned in 2014. Conrad wrote in a memo that “no further action was needed.”
It wasn’t until another officer, Brandon Wood, was accused of sexual abuse of a teen Explorer in July 2016 that the case was revived.
Conrad has repeatedly declined to publicly explain his decision to close the Betts case without further action in 2014, citing pending investigations.
When it was determined that Betts had offered an Explorer money, according to the report, police should have asked the Jefferson County Attorney's office if a crime had been committed.
And police should have "identified" a pattern with Betts and talked with all other teens in the program to see if he had engaged in improper behavior with them, the report concludes.
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